self care

Self-Care is A Must Especially During COVID Overwhelm

It might seem contradictory to say that the time when we need the most self care is when we’re overwhelmed, but it’s true.

Think about it: how essential is self-care when we’re already doing great?

Yeah, thought so.

To top it off, many of us are re-emerging after a year of living with mandates, lockdowns, and shortages. The one thing that has helped many of us to keep going is the notion of getting our old lives back.

Longing for the “good old days” – a cup of coffee enjoyed with co-workers, dinner out with friends and family – we all yearn for our pre-pandemic lives.

And yet, as we emerge slowly from the crisis, it isn’t all that simple.

We hoped that once we return to our ‘normal’ lives, we’d all breathe a sigh of relief.

But we’re not quite there yet.

Self-Care Should Be Every Leader’s Top Priority

There’s a new and hidden shadow following many that there is no vaccine for:
anxiety, depression, grief, and a host of other mental health issues.

Fortunately, many organizations are recognizing the stress and burnout in their employees and are extending pandemic benefits, offering flexible work hours and even time during the workday to destress, like taking an outdoor walk or even a visit to a museum.

It may sound cliché, but never has it been more impactful:

Self-care has never been more important than right now.

“A moment of self-compassion can change your entire day. A string of such moments can change the course of your life.”
–Christopher K. Germer

Self-Care: A Whole New Awareness

Wayne Jonas, MD, executive director of Samuel Integrative Health Programs, recently partnered with The Harris Poll for a survey of just over 2,000 adults, gauging the status of the participants’ mental health and self-care after a year of the pandemic:

  • 64% report giving more attention to their mental health than before
  • 38% plan to be more mindful regarding self-care post pandemic
  • 44% needed guidance to bolster their self-care efforts

Companies are responding to their employees’ burnout and increased stress levels with a variety of ways to promote self-care:

  • For one week, Mozilla shut down for “Wellness Week”
  • Shopify implemented “Rest & Refuel Fridays” globally
  • Marriott added 3 paid “TakeCare Days Off”
  • PepsiCo and other firms are extending paid time off, child (or elder) care benefits and offering flexible work schedules

Marianne Cooper, sociologist at Stanford University, summed up what workers and their employers face:

“Expecting people to just ‘return to work’ does not acknowledge the challenges and difficulties employees endured. Employers can’t expect employees to just pretend like we didn’t just live through a social catastrophe —
especially as that catastrophe continues to unfold around the world.”

“Employers need to understand the employees returning to the office are not the same people who left last March.”

Obviously, COVID-19 effects are not just physical.

We are a world suffering from pandemic fatigue. Women have left the workforce in record numbers and People of Color are suffering added impacts, as they are at greater risk of losing their jobs.

So where do we go from here?

Lead With Care and Empathy

self careLead by example.

In communicating with our employees, it can be helpful to share our concerns, too. Everyone bears some COVID scars. When we share our own discomforts, it allows us to demonstrate care and compassion – it makes us human in the eyes of our team and colleagues.

Harvard Business Review noted the importance for leaders to relate their own stories of mental health struggles. Sharing personal stories has been proven to be a successful way to open discussion so that others speak up about their own challenges, feelings, and emotions.

A sense of “they feel that, too” develops. The feeling of isolation is lessened, and a hope is instilled.

As an authentic, compassionate leader, lead by healthy behaviors:

  • Tell your team you’re taking a break for a walk outside.
  • Share that you’re having a therapy appointment. (One colleague of mine, a partner in a top auditing firm, actually blocks his calendar for all to see that he has therapy – bravo!!)
  • Have regular Check-ins: ask specific questions and listen to answers.
  • Offer flexibility, be accommodating.

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all, band-aid solution to the problems brought on by the pandemic.

HBR writers Kelly Greenwood and Natasha Krol highlight the importance of flexibility:

“Being accommodating doesn’t necessarily mean lowering your standards.
Flexibility can help your team thrive amid the continued uncertainty.”

Leaders need to set an example and nurture a team that feels they are cared about, that their needs are being met, and most importantly – that their leader is available to listen.

Self-Care Strategies – for Leadership & Life

Tchiki Davis, Ph. D., offers up some simple self-care suggestions:

  • Get enough rest. Lack of sleep has a huge effect our whole being. Much research has been done to prove this. Tools such as Fitbits can help monitor our sleep patterns.
  • Eat right. It’s good for our bodies and our minds. Smoothies are a great way to get our fruits/veggies in: I have one every day.
  • Reduce stress and anxiety by daily exercise – find what most resonates & stay committed. Online yoga or bar classes lasting anywhere from 15-75 minutes can accommodate any level and schedule.
  • Learn to say ‘no’ to your non-priorities. Stop feeling obligated to others. Say ‘yes’ to self-care.
  • Treat yourself to a trip to the park or beach – just for you. This Summer, I took off by myself to a Cretan beach – was pure heaven. Self-care is truly a healing balm for the Soul.

“Surround yourself with people who reflect who you want to be and how you want to be.” – Unknown

Don’t forget to seek the company of supportive people – we all need a support circle. Yet when we think of “self-care,” we often overlook the impact our relationships can have. I am part of a global group of women who meet daily to support each other in our self-care habits. Many of us report that we wouldn’t be half as far in our lives if didn’t have each other to lean on.

While these strategies sound simple enough to incorporate into our routines, they’re things we often shrug off and say, “someday…” That someday is today.

“Rest and self-care are so important. When you take time to replenish your spirit, it allows you to serve others from the overflow.
You cannot serve from an empty vessel.” – Eleanor Brownn

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Women Make Awesome Leaders. So Why Aren’t More Actually Leading?

Traditions die hard. Women make great leaders, yet even in 2021, few hold top positions.

Humans tend to hold on to traditions because change is difficult. It’s easier to stay course on the same road than to take the one less traveled by.

And nowhere is that more visible than women in leadership roles.

“She was powerful. Not because she wasn’t scared, but because she went on so strongly, despite the fear.”

Despite oftentimes scoring higher than their male counterparts when it comes to leadership skills, the chief executive office largely remains male-dominated territory. In 2019, a paltry 4.9% of Fortune 500 CEOs and a meager 2% of S&P CEOS were women.

Women have been much more visible in the political arena, but that success hasn’t carried through to senior leadership positions in companies. That’s where tradition, biases and prejudices too often bolt the door to women candidates.

Perhaps Sheryl Sandberg summed up those hindrances best:

As a country and as a world, we are not comfortable with women in leadership roles. Little girls get called bossy all the time – a word that’s almost never used for boys – and that leads directly to the problems women face in the workforce.

Scoring High, Yet Missing the Leadership Mark…Why?

Plenty of research reveals that unconscious bias wields a major role in hiring and promoting women, which is ultimately reflected at the top levels within organizations.

These biases fly in the face of the high competencies, capabilities and aptitudes that women possess. Recent studies in Harvard Business Review revealed that women in leadership positions were viewed as being just as effective as men.

In their studies, women were rated as excelling in all these key areas of leadership:

  • taking initiative
  • undertaking self-development
  • performing with resilience
  • demonstrating high honesty and integrity

Women were believed to be much more effective in over 80% of the competencies that measure leadership traits.

Perpetual biases against women are common: Bold may be mistaken as overbearing. Tenacious can be unfairly judged as nagging. Even professional can be misinterpreted as icy and even “unfeminine.” Too often, those worn-out stereotypes and old prejudices get in the way – and when that happens, no one wins.

“One of the criticisms I’ve faced over the years is that I’m not aggressive enough or assertive enough or maybe somehow, because I’m empathetic, it means I’m weak. I totally rebel against that. I refuse to believe that you cannot be both compassionate and strong.”
– Jacinda Ardern (Prime Minister of New Zealand)

Leadership Confidence or Competence?

A lack of confidence in themselves that may be one factor that holds many women back. Many of us can relate to that sneaky inner saboteur that tells us we’re not good enough, or we don’t have the right experience, education, or professional network… Data since 2016 revealed that women under the age of 25 don’t view themselves with confidence. Writers Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman offer that those in that age group are probably much more competent than they believe themselves to be – that is the exact opposite from their male counterparts, who tend to be overconfident given their level of competence.

According to HBR data, as women age, their belief in themselves increases:

  • Rating confidence for the age group 25 to over 60 years of age, men gained only 8.5 percentile points, while women gained a whopping 29 percentile points.

HBR notes that different studies have led to different conclusions when it comes to confidence in women. In other words, building confidence is important – but it’s only one factor and certainly not an end-all, be-all solution.

  • Studies do agree, however, that women tend to shy away from applying for a job they don’t feel qualified for, while a man is inclined to forge ahead. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic writes that society in general is unable to distinguish between confidence and competence.

“We are fooled into believing that men are better leaders than women…the only advantage that men have over women is the fact that manifestations of hubris – often masked as charisma or charm – are commonly mistaken for leadership potential, and that these occur much more frequently in men than in women.”

One Step Forward…One Back

Since the 2019 HBR statistics, there was a slight increase of women holding the title of CEO during the last year – which was an extremely challenging and tumultuous year for businesses. Writing in bizwomen, Anne Stych reported that in early 2020, women held 6.7% of CEO positions and by the end of the year, claimed 8% of CEO positions.

Those statistics were marred somewhat when JCPenney released the news that CEO Jill Soltau would step down and be replaced by Stanley Shashoua. This brings light to the “glass cliff” phenomenon – when women are hired during extremely challenging times in an industry with no certainty of success. Soltau’s replacement gives credence to a study by researchers Alison Cook and Christy Glass from Utah State, who found that after reviewing Fortune 500 companies over more than a decade, white women and men and women of color are more likely than white men to be given the top nod as CEO at struggling firms.

Hiring Based on Leadership Skills – or Style?

Writing in Forbes earlier this year, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, succinctly summed up why there aren’t more women leaders in charge:

“We live in a sham meritocracy, where we pretend to pick the best person for each job, while simply picking those we prefer: and when the jobs pay well, they are still overwhelming male.”

Chamorro-Premuzic notes hiring isn’t based on skills, but on style: we choose confidence over competence, charisma over humility, narcissism over integrity.

He dug deeper into just how well women do better than men:

  • men score higher than women in dark personality traits (aggression, psychopathy, and narcissism)
  • women generally perform better than men in humility, self-control, social skills, moral sensitivity, among others

Chamorro-Premuzic boldly asks what would happen if less time was spent telling women to be more confident, and more time choosing leaders based on actual competence.

“Equality isn’t exceptional women getting ahead, It is incompetent men falling behind.”
-Sarah Green Carmichael, Bloomberg

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